SA must take a long-term view of its challenges and prospects by addressing domestic factors over which it has some control, says Raymond Parsons, deputy CEO of Business Unity SA (Busa).
Factors inhibiting industry in SA include the availability and price of electricity; rail and trade-related transport, and the inconsistent application of legislation.
Rail, port and power monopolies, and steep tariff increases, have put pressure on the reliability of services and any competitive advantage SA’s industry may enjoy.
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Mr Parsons told delegates to the South African Association of Freight Forwarders congress in Cape Town yesterday that, as a small, open economy, SA could do little about disruptive economic events elsewhere in the world.
Instead, the country needed to focus on its own long-term goals to meet its policy and economic development challenges.
He said the National Development Plan and New Growth Path "both provide excellent platforms for elected representatives, government officials and the public" to engage on SA’s future.
"They can help to shape a favourable economic and business environment. Without them a 6% economic growth rate for SA is not possible," Mr Parsons said.
A survey by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Imperial Logistics and Stellenbosch University, released this week, found fuel price increases had a huge effect on logistics costs.
It noted the government’s increased investment in infrastructure development, with more than R260-billion set aside for transport and logistics projects, including shifting cargo from road to rail.
"The effective maintenance, expansion and management of our country’s infrastructure will enable SA to compete at a higher level globally," Cornelius Ruiters, executive director of CSIR Built Environment, said at the event.
However, SA still had to contend with extraneous economic factors. The rand this week fell to its lowest level against the dollar in nearly six months on euro-zone concerns.
While SA’s manufacturers celebrated the opportunity the weak currency created for exports, the sector saw a significant drop in March, suggesting poor demand in Europe was taking a toll.
The ministers of economic development and trade and industry have backed manufacturing’s call for intervention to weaken the rand. But the Treasury and the Reserve Bank in Pretoria have been reluctant to act.
The rand has declined more than 21% against the dollar in the past year, and faces continued volatility. Such uncertainty raises the issue of the quality of decision-making in policy, as illustrated by the row over e-tolling in Gauteng.
SA needed to urgently introduce regulatory impact assessments across government departments and agencies, to assess the costs and benefits of regulatory and policy proposals, Mr Parsons said. "The central (assessment) unit, originally established in February 2007 under the political leadership of the deputy president, needs to gain widespread traction in the bureaucratic machine."
Mr Parsons said there was also a need to lighten the regulatory burden, which would provide SA with a more competitive and friendly regulatory framework, especially for small business, which had the greatest potential for job creation.